Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has ordered a full report from Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine into yesterday's nationwide blackout, which was reportedly caused by low gas pressure around 12.37 am. She wants Ramnarine to not only detail exactly what transpired before and during the power outage, but also make recommendations to ensure there are no future occurrences.
A release issued yesterday by the Ministry of Energy also said Persad-Bissessar had mandated Ramnarine to focus on ensuring the country's electricity and other energy supplies are properly secured.This may be because there were rumours that the act may have been sabotage as T&TEC began restoring power across Trinidad and Tobago around 4.45 am. Radio stations were flooded with calls from concerned residents suggesting the blackout was "strange" and "not by accident."
Mere hours after the blackout, Persad-Bissessar and Ramnarine met with officials at PowerGen, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, to get a first-hand briefing on the incident.In her capacity as chair of the National Security Council, the PM also put all law enforcement agencies on "high alert" and ordered deployment of the national helicopters during the blackout. She said this was done to ensure law and order was maintained and critical infrastructure remained secure during the blackout.
"Co-ordination of the security effort continues via the National Strategic Command and the National Emergency Operations Centre, comprising all emergency systems and these agencies are prepared to respond to any incident if necessary," she added. The PM said there was one reported incident of attempted looting at a supermarket in Barataria, but this was prevented by police on patrol.This was not the first time in recent months that citizens' lives had been disrupted by a major power outage.
Last December, a blackout along the entire north-west of Trinidad forced dozens of businesses in downtown Port-of-Spain to halt Christmas shopping.On August 30, 2011, Port-of-Spain was again without electricity for more than two hours after lightning struck the T&TEC's Bamboo substation, Valsayn. Power outages also were reported in north, central and east Trinidad.In July 2010, lightning struck a PowerGen station during heavy rains, causing blackouts in several parts of the country. That incident also caused seven generators to trip at the Point Lisas facility, affecting areas in Point Fortin, Fyzabad, Santa Flora and surrounding areas.T&TEC's general manager Kelvin Ramsook said preliminary reports did not suggest the incident was deliberate.
"Based on the preliminary information I have, it doesn't suggest anything like sabotage, but like anything else we will have to do a thorough investigation," he said.On the cause, he said: "The gas pressure in Trinidad dropped low and because of that the infeeds into the power stations were all affected and could not generate. All the machines failed and that affected the entire country."Along the East-West Corridor, some residents said yesterday that they were prepared for the situation as their households are always stocked with candles and flashlights, because from time to time T&TEC "played the monkey."
"When I opened my eyes and saw no time on my radio, I put my hand on my bedhead and turned on my lantern," said a Macoya Gardens resident.Another resident from La horquetta said she always had a lot of candles in stock.Others however, were unprepared. One resident said she was in the process on making pastelles and had to pack everything away when the power was disrupted.
Emergency system malfunction
In a release yesterday, T&TEC said customers in Penal and environs, served by the Syne Village substation, were the first to be reconnected. It said the outage stemmed from two causes–a problem with the gas supply from Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd, which affected Trinidad, and a subsequent problem at the Cove power plant, which affected Tobago."T&TEC was able to restart the generators at Cove soon after, restoring power to the island from as early as 1 am. The final customer came back on at approximately 3 am," the release said.
In Trinidad, T&TEC said the restoration started at approximately 4.45 am, as there was some delay in restarting the generators at the PowerGen plant in Pt Lisas. Around 11 am yesterday, approximately 90 per cent of customers in Trinidad were back on electricity supply.The process to restart a generator after a complete shutdown –called a black start–takes hours, as machines have to be gradually brought back up to full capacity, T&TEC added.
The Energy Ministry further explained the outage was as a result of a malfunction of the emergency shutdown system at the Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd plant at Point Lisas Industrial Estate.The release said: "At 12:25 am, the Phoenix Park Gas Processors Limited plant at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate tripped as a result of a malfunction of their emergency shutdown system. This impacted the delivery of natural gas to the national gas grid. This also impacted the delivery of natural gas to the PowerGen Point Lisas power station, which consequently resulted in blackouts across the country."It added that all contingencies were put in place by the Government to restore power in the shortest possible time as well as to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.
Yesterday's blackout gained international coverage by foreign media houses, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Tampa Tribune and Miami Herald.United States television networks ABC News and CNN also reported the story, saying the blackout was caused by a problem with the natural gas supply in Trinidad and a subsequent failure at a plant in Tobago.Yahoo News also reported the incident and quoted part of Persad-Bissessar's statement after the blackout.There was also a post of the blackout on the New England Cable News.